A major aim of this project is to rethink the ways in which certain identities (religious, national, regional) are formed, transformed, and juxtaposed, mobilized, used and abused, and through that to question rigid binaries and conceptual dichotomies. The project will take advantage of its location in the Middle East and study old and new forms of consciousness and their role in the shaping of collective memory and communal (and inter-communal) identities.
We believe our research project to be unique and original in several respects. On the one hand, we plan to question some hegemonic concepts by adopting marginal points of view on core issues, placing the marginal and marginalized at the center. Thus, we shall approach the study of Israeli society, culture, and politics from the point view of the Palestinians in Israel; at the same time, we shall study the history and cultures of the Middle East from the perspective of the Jewish communities in the region. This double move will question monolithic conceptions and subject them to interrogation. This would force us to rethink categories such as nativity, exile, diaspora and homelessness, unity, sovereignty, as well as religious and intellectual exchange and translation, and to introduce new categories like hospitality, fraternity, and solidarity.
On the other hand, the project aims to combine contemporary perspectives with historical ones, and by doing that to show the ways in which the present is shaped by the past, but also the past is shaped by the present. By foregrounding this double movement of time we hope to bring to consciousness and to question patterns of identity-formation in different groups. By moving in between geographical spaces, and travelling back and forth in time, and by narrowing the gap between theory and practice, we hope to overcome the rigidity of old concepts, entrenched stereotypes and prejudices so as to make way for new ideas, to develop new research agendas, and to suggest new teaching curriculums.
One major theme will be to study and question the division of certain disciplines within the academia. Israeli academia was built in its very basic infrastructure on strong European conceptual frameworks. “Judaic studies” was recreated as strong discipline constituting complex relation with the variety of “oriental studies” on the one hand and with “general”, i.e. European studies on the other. This created a general situation in which the rich intellectual and human resources existing in Israeli academia are segregated into closed disciplinary structures, strongly isolated of each other. The segregated school system in Israel creates the same separation all the way from preschool to high school institutions, institutionally divided according to ethnic, religious and cultural divisions. One goal of this project would be to develop variety of strategies in order to create the basis for a different academic curriculum for the humanities in Israel that may be effective in bringing about social change, especially through creating new school programs. The more contemporary aspect of the project will focus on the ways the existence of Palestinians in Israel “disturbs” the self image of Israel, and the ways the Jews in the middle east might “disturb” its Arab and Islamic image. We think that this mutual “disturbance” can be a very fertile ground for research and challenge.
Raef Zreik, Minerva Humanities Center
Yossef Schwartz, Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas
A joint project of the Minerva Humanities Center and the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas, Tel Aviv University.